Lately, on social media outlets such as TikTok, Instagram, and Tumblr there has been a wave of trends that focus on certain aesthetics such as “Cottagecore,” “Goblincore,” “Grandmacore,” and many more. These aesthetics revolve around a certain mood or feeling and often relate to historical literary and artistic movements. A very popular trend that has been sweeping social media is the dark academic aesthetic. If you fantasize about what life may have been like as an early 20th century English professor then Dark Academia may be the aesthetic for you.
Dark academia is an aesthetic that is centred on higher education, classic literature, the arts, and Gothic architecture. At its core, it is an aesthetic that focuses on a genuine passion for wisdom and learning. People make posts that romanticize a love of knowledge, art, and literature. The aesthetic has the viewers imagining their life as an Ivy League or English boarding school student who studies Ancient Greece and wears a lot of tweed. Posts that feature stacks of books, classical sheet music, notebooks smudged with ink, plaid skirts, and Oxford shoes are all staples in the dark academia aesthetic.
Even though I don’t dress like any popular dark academia influencers, I don’t want to learn a dead language, nor do I have an affinity for Ancient Greek, I can appreciate the aesthetic. The love of learning new things is something I can relate to and it is somewhat comforting that thousands of people share the same passion that I do. Discovering Dark Academia has allowed me to explore a lot of subjects I didn’t previously have any interest in, like art history, architecture, and classical music. It has inspired me to take an art history class on Latin American art as my elective and start to read more classic literature, specifically the works of Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters.
Dark Academia presents an idealized and romanticized version of university life. As fun as it is to post on social media and participate in the aesthetic online, it is often hyper-performed for views and likes. Like many other social media trends, Dark Academia takes an everyday task like studying or drinking coffee and turns it into a performance and is often paired with classical music in the background and black and white filters. Anybody who has attended a frosh week party or been to Stauffer during finals knows that for most people, this heightened version of reality isn’t all that realistic.
Like most trends that originate on social media, Dark Academia also has its fair share of critiques. The aesthetic is very Eurocentric as it focuses mainly on European and Western literature, music, and architecture. There is nothing wrong with appreciating European subjects but the emphasis of studying Ancient Greece, Rome, British literature and the Latin language wrongfully enforces the idea that Eurocentric subjects are more worthy of studying and are considered more “intellectual.” There is also an air of pretentiousness that accompanies Dark Academia because the historic and established schools like Harvard, Yale, or Oxford used as a setting perpetuate the elitism that comes with attending a world-renowned university – something most people do not have the privilege to do. Some people also believe that the lifestyle and aesthetic romanticize heavy alcohol use and other unhealthy habits. Dark Academia glorifies the idea of staying up all night, tearing through book after book, consuming multiple cups of coffee in the pursuit of knowledge simply because you can. Although most university students can relate to pulling all-nighters and consuming one too many caffeinated drinks when you have a big assignment due, it is definitely not something that should be encouraged. Staple Dark Academia books like The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio all feature a cast of university students who smoke too much and are borderline alcoholics. These critiques of the aesthetic are valid considering the majority of the audience on Tik Tok and Tumblr are teenagers and an emphasis on these ideas can be harmful to a very impressionable group of young people.
During the pandemic, Dark Academia flourished online. It provides a temporary escape to a romanticized version of everyday life from all the scary and terrible things happening in the world. It also provides a digital substitute to students who have either had their educational plans put on hold or simply miss the academic, in-person environment of university life. Like many things on the Internet, the aesthetic has both positive and negative aspects, yet, adherence to the core purpose of the aesthetic allows like-minded people to bond over their love of learning.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Jessica Roux